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Apple Gets Serious About Photo Sharing With iCloud Update

May 14th, 2012 05:45 admin View Comments

Apple’s Wordwide Developers Conference is still a few weeks away, but as usual, there’s no shortage of clues about what to expect. 

The latest news suggests that Apple is putting more focus on photos and their inherently social nature. The company is expected to push out an update to iCloud that enables users to share and comment on photos. 

Details are sparse, but according to The Wall Street Journal, some are expecting a service akin to Flickr to emerge within iCloud. Whether it’s a full-blown social service or something a bit more limited, the importance of photos and how they’re shared among people is clearly not lost on Apple. 

The iCloud update will come two months after Facebook agreed to acquire Instagram for $1 billion. The unexpected deal served as the latest – and perhaps most significant – measure of just how valuable social photography can be, especially on mobile devices of the sort that Apple manufactures (and on which Instagram existed exclusively until recently).

Apple has never been known for building its own compelling social products. The most obvious example is Ping. There’s no reason this tendency couldn’t change, but what the company is likely cooking up will probably be designed to fit nicely into iOS and iCloud and not necessarily cater to a larger public.

Currently, the way photos are handled within iCloud is pretty static. Photostream syncs photos across devices, but that’s about it. The new upgrades will not only add sharing functionality but also the ability to sync videos. 

What we’ll see at the WWDC is, as always, the subject of widespread rumor and speculation, but the next iteration of iOS is a safe bet. In addition to these iCloud updates, Apple is expected to unveil its own proprietary, notably non-Google mobile maps application.  We may also learn more about Mountain Lion, the next version of Mac OS X, and see a hardware refresh or two.  

 

Source: Apple Gets Serious About Photo Sharing With iCloud Update

A Discreet Guide to Using Mobile Devices in the Loo

May 14th, 2012 05:00 admin View Comments

Last year, British researchers swabbed 390 cell phones and analyzed what they picked up. Know what they foundOne in six phones has poop on it. Four out of five are contaminated by some kind of bacteria. Sure, we all like to make our own calls while answering Mother Nature’s, but that’s just gross. Here’s a surefire way to avoid a crappy user experience on your smartphone or other mobile device.

 

 

Step 1. Wash Your Phone (Carefully!)

Here are the only Apple-approved instructions for cleaning an iPhone. They seem like good advice for any mobile device user. Don’t do anything else. It will void your warranty. If you use water, do it carefully, and keep the wetness away from all openings. Don’t use any kind of chemical. If your mobile is already contaminated, you’ll just have to live with it.

Step 2. Choose Your Phoning Hand

Before you even walk into that bathroom, decide which hand is for the mobile and which is for wiping. If your device hand touches anything nasty, it’s out of play. So make a choice and stick with it.

Step 3. Commence Your Business

Hopefully you don’t need instructions for this part other than a reminder to keep your device hand well away from the drop zone, as it were.

Step 4. Return the Phone to Your Pocket (With One Hand)

This is the most delicate part of the procedure. When you’re ready to rejoin polite society, you can restore your device to your pocket – but you must do so one-handed, taking care to avoid contact with potentially soiled items and surfaces. Once your device is securely stowed, you may wipe, stand and flush.

Step 5. Wash Your Freaking Hands

I’m embarrassed to feel it necessary to include this step, but once you have evacuated, and before you touch your mobile device again, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.

After researching this topic, I don’t think I’ll ever again feel comfortable borrowing someone’s phone unless we all promise to follow this protocol. I promise. Do you? 

Please leave your promise in the comments.

Source: A Discreet Guide to Using Mobile Devices in the Loo

Read/Write Daily: How To Seduce a Robot

May 14th, 2012 05:55 admin View Comments

Today’s theme is missing pieces. We fancy ourselves to be a pretty smart species. But when you get down to the fundamentals, we don’t understand the world very well at all.

We don’t even know how to behave on our first date with a robot.

Our popular culture is obsessed with the Mayan “apocalypse” this year, but archaeologists have proven (again) that we have no idea what that ancient calendar actually says.

We’re on the verge of building robot sex companions, but we don’t know how to treat them.

As for the people who are alive, we don’t know how our minds arise from our brains.

We don’t understand where life came from, but a new mathematical approach might explain it.

Are particles particles? Are they waves? Is there a difference? We don’t know yet.

And of course, there’s still that mystery of the proportions of the entire universe.

Image via Shutterstock.

Past entries from Read/Write Daily

Source: Read/Write Daily: How To Seduce a Robot

Where To Now For Yahoo? Thompson Out, Loeb & Co In

May 13th, 2012 05:02 admin View Comments

Over the weekend, Yahoo!’s embattled CEO Scott Thompson finally did the honorable thing and stood down. Ex-President of News Corp’s Fox Interactive Media division, Ross Levinsohn, has been named interim Chief Executive Officer. Hedge fund shareholder Daniel Loeb – whose firm Third Point owned 5.8% of Yahoo – and his three cronies have effectively won their long-running battle for seats on the Yahoo! board. The board also has a new chairman: Fred Amoroso, the ex-CEO of digital entertainment company Rovi. Amoroso only joined Yahoo’s board in February and is said to be “one of Silicon Valley’s most enthusiastic proponents of patent warfare.”

So now that Daniel Loeb has gotten his way, what can we expect from Yahoo in the coming months? Clearly more patents, if Amoroso’s appointment is anything to go by. But Loeb had an agenda, too…

Loeb ran a website called Value Yahoo, which at time of writing is down with a server error. The website promoted the views of Loeb and three other board-seeking Yahoo! shareholders: Harry Wilson (who specializes in corporate restructurings and turnarounds), Michael Wolf (ex-President and COO of MTV Networks) and Jeff Zucker (the one who didn’t get appointed; he was ex-President and CEO of NBC Universal). Collectively, these four men called themselves “The Shareholder Slate.”

The Shareholder Slate is only interested in one thing: increasing Yahoo!’s share price in order to make a buck. Loeb and co talk about “increasing value,” but they are referring to monetary value. This isn’t about creating “societal value,” as Henry Blodget described Mark Zuckerberg’s mission at Facebook.

Loeb & Co’s Vision For Yahoo!

Plainly put, Loeb and his partners want to optimize Yahoo!’s assets. Their main complaint with Thompson was that he didn’t do enough with Yahoo!’s Asian interests. In particular Yahoo! currently owns 42 percent of Alibaba, a Chinese B2B e-commerce company. Alibaba connects Chinese manufacturers to companies around the world looking for suppliers. According to Loeb and co, Alibaba is worth $35 billion and has “significant growth potential.” Specifically, they think it will help drive Yahoo!’s share price upwards: “a 20 percent increase in the value of Alibaba would drive almost $2.00 in value per Yahoo! share.”

On its Agenda page, Loeb and co outlined their desire to implement “significant organizational changes to strategically allocate capital and talent toward Yahoo!’s greatest strengths and brightest opportunities.” Its list of 9 initiatives is wide-ranging – and rather vague. For example, they want Yahoo! to grow in the video and mobile segments; which would be in the strategic plan of just about any media company you could name these days.

How Did Scott Thompson’s Strategic Plan Differ From Loeb’s?

At his first earnings call last month, Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson talked about reducing Yahoo’s size and becoming more focused on its core business. He remarked that Yahoo! would be “doing away with everything that does not contribute to its core business of profit-driving ads and e-commerce.” He went on to say that Yahoo will get smaller by consolidating its various platforms and jettisoning 50 properties. Yahoo! has already cut 2,000 jobs in order to reduce costs and streamline the business.

So it seems like Thompson had a narrower strategic focus and was more intent on cost-cutting. He also wanted to find new revenue by aggressively licensing Yahoo’s intellectual property, a plan he put into place in March by suing Facebook for alleged patent violations.

Patents aren’t mentioned at all on Loeb’s website, however new chairman Fred Amoroso will likely push for more legal maneuvers. 

What can we expect of new interim CEO Ross Levinsohn? Even though he has a proven track record as a leader in Internet corporations, it’s likely his role will be focused on steadying the ship while Amaroso and Loeb agree on the new strategic direction for Yahoo. Loeb has been plotting for many months to steer the Yahoo ship into higher stock price waters; now it looks like he will get an opportunity to do that.

Where To Now For Yahoo?

I’m not entirely convinced that Daniel Loeb’s motivations are good for Yahoo! long term. They seem more focused on making money for Wall Street shareholders, than returning Yahoo to its roots of being a true innovative force on the Web.

However, the Value Yahoo website and its suggested solutions for Yahoo! do at least demonstrate the passion needed to turn Yahoo! around. The Yahoo! board has gone through five CEOs in recent times, so it really is desperate times. Let’s see if Loeb and co can turn the beleaguered company around – for the benefit of shareholders, employees and Internet fans in general.

Source: Where To Now For Yahoo? Thompson Out, Loeb & Co In

Facebook to Let Users Vote On Its Privacy Policies

May 13th, 2012 05:12 admin View Comments

Facebook shareholders may be grumbling about the inordinate amount of control founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg holds under the company’s relatively unique corporate structure, but new privacy-policy explanations the company announced on Friday – and will explain in a conference call Monday – return some privacy control back to users.

How Many Users Does It Take to Change a Policy?

“If we receive more than 7,000 comments concerning a particular change, we will put the change up for a vote. The vote will be binding on us if more than 30% of all active registered users as of the date of the notice vote,” the company’s updated terms of use read.

“This one is a fresh one,” said Kapil Raina, director of Product Marketing at Zscaler.  “Given that most of the Facebook stock is under a dual class control, it is refreshing that at least privacy is not. Then again,” Raina added, “note the emphasis on ‘active’ – which is defined by what?”

A spokesperson for Facebook could not be reached for comment Saturday, but that question could presumably come up at a live Q&A Facebook has scheduled for noon ET/9 am PT tomorrow. The company is seeking feedback on the new policies, perhaps trying to reverse its image of being a company that acts first and asks questions later when it comes to policies on user data.

The company outlined the policy changes and announced Monday’s Q&A in a blog post. Anyone can join the discussion at http://on.fb.me/fbdctalks.

A New Privacy Hub

The most notable change is a new policy hub, which makes it easier for users to find pertinent policies on acceptable use, rights and responsibilities and how Facebook uses your data. The company still takes liberties in its control over user data and privacy.

“Facebook talks a lot about data they ‘receive’, but they are still very vague about what they are storing and for how long,” said Jay Herbison,CEO of Priveazy, a startup dedicated to educating users about online privacy and safety issues. “Facebook is also not giving users full access to the things that Facebook is storing about them.”

For example, Herbison said he had issues with the data collections received through Facebook social plugins on non-Facebook sites. Facebook has previously acknowledged that it keeps social plugin data for 90 days but there has never been a mention in the privacy policy about this, Herbison said. 

“It is very likely that as Facebook rolls out an ad network, the length of the storage will be extended and this data will be used to create permanent ‘Web browsing profiles’ that could outlast the Web browsing data that was initially captured,” Herbison said.

The privacy policy changes most likely stem from last year’s dust-up with the Federal Trade Commission and the company’s initial public stock offering later this week.

Source: Facebook to Let Users Vote On Its Privacy Policies

Are the Feds Still Tracking Your GPS? One Senator Wants to Know

May 11th, 2012 05:49 admin View Comments

The Supreme Court thought it settled the issue in January, but the debate over warrantless GPS searches won’t go away.  Now, one U.S. senator is concerned that the Department of Justice hasn’t fully scaled back its searches and may be subpoenaing ISPs for the GPS data it can no longer get directly. 

Last September – an eon ago for attorneys involved with this issue – a U.S. appeals court ruled that the Justice Department must turn over information about how much data it obtains about suspects under surveillance by way of GPS devices. It was the first drop in what became a watershed for privacy advocates, including the ACLU, which has long argued that obtaining civilians’ locations through GPS constitutes a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Then in January, the Supreme Court affirmed the ACLU’s argument almost in its entirety (PDF available here), overturning a drug trafficking conviction of a D.C. nightclub owner whose whereabouts had been tracked through warranted use of GPS data for a car registered to his wife. Since the warrant applied to information for someone other than the suspect, an appeals court ruled, and the Supreme Court upheld, that the search leading to his arrest and later conviction was unconstitutional. Immediately afterward, the DOJ ordered a scaling back on the use of GPS in surveillance.

But recent news reports (like this one) compelled Sen. Al Franken (D – Minn.) to send a letter sent yesterday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a copy of which was sent to ReadWriteWeb. The letter includes a questionnaire asking the government to disclose the number of requests for information it filed with wireless carriers between last January and April. Sen. Franken apparently is looking for a pattern: Since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in U.S. v. Jones on January 23, a sudden spike in information requests could be a signal that law enforcement officials are bypassing the high court.

“Americans’ right to privacy shouldn’t depend on what technology is being used to track them,” Franken says in his statement sent to RWW.  “The protections people are guaranteed by the Constitution and by the Supreme Court shouldn’t be limited to the use of physical GPS monitoring devices; they should extend to any device law enforcement officials use to track an individual’s movements – including location information obtained from wireless carriers.”

The government’s position on the Jones case had been that a GPS database was like a public place, a virtual community. And in that respect, it’s like a public park, where people might not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. In the specific case of Mr. Jones, who was suspected of involvement in a cocaine ring, the government had argued that any privacy right the suspect may claim would be outweighed by the rights of all the other citizens who share this common place (albeit in cyberspace), and who expect it to be free of drug trafficking.

A lower district court, whose ruling had been overturned by the appeals court, had offered something similar to this metaphor: If you’re in a public park and you notice that you’re being watched by a passer-by, that’s not a privacy violation. If that person keeps looking at you for a long period of time, however, maybe he really is spying on you. By that same standard, perhaps it’s unreasonable to suspect the motives of an agency that acquires a person’s location once or twice. When that person’s being monitored for four weeks or so, however, maybe that’s bad.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, completely disagreed. In his classic law-professor style, the justice wrote that the long-term spying metaphor, “introduces yet another novelty into our jurisprudence. There is no precedent for the proposition that whether a search has occurred depends on the nature of the crime being investigated. And even accepting that novelty, it remains unexplained why a 4-week investigation is ‘surely’ too long and why a drug-trafficking conspiracy involving substantial amounts of cash and narcotics is not an ‘extraordinary offens[e]’ which may permit longer observation. … What of a 2-day monitoring of a suspected purveyor of stolen electronics? Or of a 6-month monitoring of a suspected terrorist? We may have to grapple with these ‘vexing problems’ in some future case … but there is no reason for rushing forward to resolve them here.”

It’s this question of long-term interest (“Is he staring at me or just in my general direction?”) that may have motivated Sen. Franken to ask Attorney General Holder this question – the second part of Question 2 of his questionnaire:  “How many individuals’ location information did the department receive as a result of these requests?”  Holder was asked to have his staff respond to the questionnaire by June 11.

 


Stock image by Shutterstock.

Source: Are the Feds Still Tracking Your GPS? One Senator Wants to Know

Read/Write Daily: Watch the Northern Lights from Orbit

May 11th, 2012 05:00 admin View Comments

Today’s theme is the new mission. We’re exploring space today for very different reasons than we were 50 years ago. We need whole new institutions – not just new technologies – to do it.

What has changed, and what has stayed the same?

The TDRS-4 satellite was only designed for a 10-year mission. Now it’s being retired after 23 years of service.

The International Space Station has raised its orbit in order to perform maintenance before the private SpaceX Dragon capsule arrives.

SpaceX has a new launch date of May 19. Here’s NASA’s statement about the exciting milestone.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has passed NASA’s test of its crew cabin.

Here’s a gorgeous video of the Northern Lights from orbit to remind us of the magic of why we go up there.

Image via Shutterstock.

Past entries from Read/Write Daily

Source: Read/Write Daily: Watch the Northern Lights from Orbit

After Two Months, How Does the iPad’s Retina Display Stack Up?

May 11th, 2012 05:00 admin View Comments

It’s been nearly two months since the latest iteration of Apple’s tablet started shipping. In that time, those of us who rushed out to buy a new iPad have been peering into a display with an incredibly high resolution. 

 The intial response to the iPad’s retina display was mostly one of awe, with some concerns about things like app size and battery life. Several weeks later, it’s safe to say the upgrade was worth it. 

The high-resolution screen is the most noticeable visual enhancement for anybody who upgraded from a previous verison of the iPad. I was replacing a first-generation iPad, so I had a number of newfound advantages. The screen was probably the biggest one, though. 

For people who spend lots of time with their iPad, the sharper text and crisper images are a welcome improvement, even if the older-generation models didn’t necessarily look bad. Personally, I do about 90% of all my reading on my iPad – from e-books in the Kindle app to articles in Flipboard and my overflowing Instapaper queue. Then there’s digital magazines like Wired and Fast Company, as well as other newsreading apps from individual publishers. Across the board, the experience of reading on the iPad is easier on the eyes. 

I’ve started writing more on my iPad, which is a breeze using an iCloud-compatible app like iA Writer and an external keyboard. Writing on the device was never a problem before, but the high-resolution screen makes the experience that much nicer. 

Not only is the resolution higher, but images also appear more vibrant. It makes the screen a tad more enjoyable to look at in general, with photos and graphics-heavy layouts being especially inviting. 

So, Is App Size Really a Problem?

Around the time that the new iPad launched, the tech press jumped on the issue of whether or not retina-friendly apps would balloon in size and eat up users’ storage space. 

While some apps are certainly larger, most remain at a reasonable size and don’t threaten to eat up too much storage. Users shouldn’t worry about upgrading to a larger capacity iPad based on the app size issue alone. It’s just not a huge problem. This largely depends, of course, on which apps we’re talking about (and in particular, how graphics-rich they are, since that’s what needs to be increased the most). The vast majority of apps on my iPad have remained 60 MB. 

The apps that take up the most space do so because of their content, not because of the graphics assets used to frame that content. Thus, things like digital magazines and music streaming apps will eat up the most space. 

Not every application has been updated to take advantage of the new display, but a pretty good selection of them have. Popular apps like Flipboard, Twitter, Kindle and many of Apple’s own offerings were first out of the gate with retina-friendly upgrades. Just this week, the Dolphin browser and i.TV entertainment guide app were updated to add retina support. Spotify’s impressive new iPad app also takes advantage of the screen’s resolution. 

Do you own the new iPad? What are your first impressions of the screen resolution and other key features? Let us know in the comments.

Source: After Two Months, How Does the iPad’s Retina Display Stack Up?

What Is the Point of… StumbleUpon?

May 11th, 2012 05:00 admin View Comments

Whenever a trendy app comes along, there are people who ask, “What is the point of this?” If millions of people are using something, there has to be a reason. In our What Is the Point of… series, we’ll explain it to you.

This week, we’re asking, What is the point of StumbleUpon?

Did you know StumbleUpon was 10 years old? It’s true. It has been learning about the interests of idle geeks since the early days of the Web. It has grown up into a massively influential application available on all kinds of devices. And it’s entering a new era as co-founder and CEO Garret Camp steps down.

What is this thing? Should you be using it? That’s up to you. Do you like fun? If you enjoy fun, you might enjoy StumbleUpon.

Better Than Television, But Just As Easy

StumbleUpon is for those times you just want the Internet to show you things. You don’t want to search, you don’t want to browse, you just want wonderful things to appear. Or maybe you feel like you’re in a rut, just hitting the same old sites over and over. If you can manage to type in “stumbleupon.com” and hit Enter, you’ve already accomplished the hard part.

Or, if you’re really chilled out and not even at your desktop, you can use StumbleUpon’s mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Nook and Kindle Fire. Once you have an account, StumbleUpon can bring delightful things to whatever device you’re using.

Now that you’re in, just start stumbling. Click the “Stumble” button and StumbleUpon will show you something new. Like it? Thumbs up. Don’t like it? Thumbs down. That’s all there is to it. Thumbs up means “I want to see more stuff like this on StumbleUpon.” Thumbs down means you don’t.

You can also help it along by adding interests. StumbleUpon is bursting at the seams with topics, and you can add as many as you want to your profile so it knows what you’re interested in. But the most important thing is to spend a good amount of time thumbs-upping and thumbs-downing things. That’s how it gets to know you.

A Magic Carpet Ride for Your Brain

You can stumble for anything, or you can filter your stumbles by one of your topics. Recently, StumbleUpon has added some features to help you stumble a bit more specifically. The Explore Box lets you type in any topic and quickly begin stumbling within it, even if you aren’t subscribed to it.

After you stumble for a while, StumbleUpon will be right most of the time. It will be your favorite way to just surf around for things you like with minimal effort. When the iPad version came out, our old friend Marshall Kirkpatrick called it “a magic carpet ride for your brain.” I don’t think it could possibly be said any better than that.

Source: What Is the Point of… StumbleUpon?

How Game of Thrones Looks From the Second Screen

May 10th, 2012 05:31 admin View Comments

In the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, a fairly significant supporting character dies. Even if you hadn’t seen it, simply watching the stream of tweets that flowed on Sunday night could easily have revealed this fact, like it or not.

This is the reality in which we now live. When just about any popular television show airs, there’s a social media-fueled conversation to go along with it in real-time. In some cases, the chatter can include spoilers. Either way, this is the new water cooler.

To observe the social activity that unfolds during a new episode of a show is to watch a phenomenon that is still in its early stages, even if it is growing fast.

From Check-ins to Social TV, Second-Screen Apps Catch On Slowly

We hear a lot about second-screen apps these days – that is, smartphone and tablet applications designed to supplement the TV-watching experience with some kind of related content or viewer interaction. 

One category of these second-screen apps is the check-in service. Much as one checks in to the local coffee shop on Foursquare, one can now use Miso or GetGlue check in to Community or, in this case, Game of Thrones.

This past Sunday night, about 13,000 GetGlue users checked in to Game of Thrones. It’s a far cry from the season’s debut episode, which succeeded in crashing the service. It’s also a small fraction of the show’s overall viewership, but this type of service is still mostly dominated by early adopters, as GetGlue COO Fraser Kelton told us in a recent interview. Similarly, Miso saw a constant flow of new check-ins during Sunday’s episode.

In both apps, we found that the amount of user engagement after checking in was minimal. In GetGlue’s iPad app, the opportunity exists to comment on other users’ check-ins. We tried, but didn’t get a response. This is a somewhat disjointed way to have a conversation, anyway. 

Likewise, the opportunity to engage with others after check-in is limited on Miso’s app, unless you push updates out to Facebook or Twitter. However, the experience offered by Miso’s iPhone app is much more engaging, thanks to the inclusion of SideShows, a feature that lets users build out a crowdsourced collection of quotes, facts and commentary about a given episode.

Twitter Is Still Where All the Action Is

As hot as these second-screen apps are becoming, it’s hard to compete with good old-fashioned Twitter. Of all the services and apps we observed Sunday night, that’s where most of the discussion was happening, by far. Halfway through the episode, the flow of tweets containing the phrase “Game of Thrones” was practically bottomless. A good number of those tweets were simply updates pushed out from apps like GetGlue, but the vast majority were genuine commentary, ranging from thoughtful observations to bitter complaints about forgetting to DVR the new episode. 

Among the second-screen apps with a social bent, the best of them are the ones that effectively integrate with services like Twitter and Facebook. The ones with their own native live-chat features have a tendency to be relatively quiet. One solid example of how an app can do social TV right is Yap.tv, which we previously reviewed in detail

The second-screen category of apps is young and evolving. That much is obvious when one takes a high-level glance at the activity happening across a number of them during a popular show. 

What’s also apparent is that social TV and related trends aren’t going anywhere. Studies have shown a correlation between social media chatter and TV ratings, and Twitter is already a breeding ground for television-related discussion. As smartphones and tablets continue to proliferate, it’s hard to imagine this type of TV-augmenting behavior won’t grow as well.

Source: How Game of Thrones Looks From the Second Screen

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